This autoethnographic piece, cowritten through letters exchanged between Kitty Rotolo, currently incarcerated in New York State, and Nadja Eisenberg-Guyot, an abolitionist organizer and graduate student in New York City, explores elaborations of trans identity, affinity, and community across prison walls. Reflecting on the authors’ friendship and the possibilities for mutual recognition that queer kinship has afforded them—even across the distance and disposability produced by incarceration—these letters reveal transness as a practice of seeing. Through letter writing and storytelling, the authors explore how Rotolo has negotiated incarceration in men's prisons, including the transphobic violence of prison, in order to articulate and live transness—as individual identity, as resistance, as affinity, as collectivity, and as practice—inside.
Something miraculous happened the last time we saw each other, at the end of October 2020 in the painted concrete, half-full visiting room of the Eastern New York Correctional Facility, surrounded by the soft chatter of masked imprisoned people and their visitors, seated at tables playing checkers, or eating vending-machine food, as the corrections officers surveilled us, arms crossed: you laughed. Not the self-contained, almost-whisper giggle demurely hidden behind your hand as you glance around the room to make sure no one is watching—the gentle, sad laugh cloaked in self-consciousness borne from decades of confinement, no. Not that. This laugh was full-bodied, riotous, righteous—don't care who hears and don't give a damn who is watching—infectious, joyous. Laughter not despite being imprisoned, but laughter momentarily expanding the boundaries of your confinement, like an exhalation of breath pushing those concrete walls back, back, back—a laughter that crinkled out from the edges of your face and sent static electricity reverberating, a laughter that could explode the room. Kitty Jayne, I had never heard you laugh like that before. In the years of visiting you at the Rose M. Singer Center on Rikers Island and now in the prison where you're doing state time, four-to-ten. Two years in on your bid is the first time I heard that laugh. Kitty Jayne, that laugh just might bring the prison down. Kitty Jayne, in that laugh, freedom reverberates.
I've learned to value my freedom. No human being should be locked up in cage all day and night.
The first time I met you, I was sitting at the front desk of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in Chelsea, probably answering the phone. I'm sure your head didn't actually graze the top of the elevator doorway opening directly into the office, but it could have. Your presence immediately filled the space. I didn't know anyone could emerge from a narrow, rickety elevator like they were stepping onto a catwalk until I saw you do it.—Nadja, to Kitty Jayne, Eastern New York Correctional Facility, Napanoch, New York
I would describe you, Nadja, as the cutest political trans activist that I know! I remember the first time we met and I thought to myself, what a cute young man! And the first time you came to visit me [in the Transgender Housing Unit at the Rose M. Singer Center] proved to me what kind of individual you really are, to take time out of your busy schedule to come to Rikers Island to spend time with me.—Kitty Jayne, to Nadja, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, New York
In February 2020 we bought Kitty Jayne a clear plastic typewriter for $225 from a mail-order catalog that specializes in prison-approved1 commodities and began to write this piece together, two white trans people born twenty years apart, Kitty Jayne in New York, Nadja in California, who first encountered each other at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in 2018.2 Our cowriting is stretched by distance—the space and time between us, ten days on average between when a letter is dropped in the mail and when it is received—and mediated by the threat of censorship and the ever-lurking, if invisible, fact of surveillance. (How many hands have fingered our letters? How many prying eyes have tried to read through the lines of our trans storytelling searching for clues of prison break and conspiracy? Are the smudges at the edges of the envelope yours, or a trace of the audience to our friendship we cannot avoid?) Reflecting on our friendship and the possibilities for mutual recognition that queer kinship has afforded us, these letters reveal transness as a practice of seeing—ourselves and each other—through lines of sight athwart transphobia.3 For us, a “trans way of seeing” isn't about trans visibility; instead, it's a doing, a mode of embrace, the labor required to sustain the lines of sight that allow us to see each other while preserving forms of opacity (Stanley 2017) that enable trans survival in a transphobic world.
The structure of this text is unconventional and unwieldy. This was our first time writing together, and the strictures imposed on us by the prison stretched our creativity and methods to the limit. As much as possible, we wanted to avoid the conventional ethnographic mode in which Kitty Jayne's story is presented as “raw material” and Nadja's work is to “interpret” what Kitty Jayne says. We're still figuring out how to interweave our voices while preserving our distinct positionalities. Throughout this cowritten article, lines directly from Kitty Jayne are represented in italics. Where we is used, it refers to Kitty Jayne and Nadja. Where I and you appear in non-italic text, the I is Nadja (writing letters to Kitty Jayne), and the you is Kitty Jayne.4
Trans liberation to me means to be a free agent, to flaunt pure beauty. To me, transwomanhood means to be a beautiful person. Together, we explore how Kitty Jayne has negotiated incarceration in men's prisons, and how, through the transphobic violence of prison, she has articulated and lived transness—as individual identity, as resistance, as affinity, as collectivity, and as practice—inside.
I've seen one or two girls hang up their garter belts during incarceration. In claiming a trans way of seeing, Kitty Jayne's womanhood keeps what incarceration denies: that garter belts can be picked up off the penitentiary floor. In holding her sisters’ garters, she refuses the severing state violence requires. It might have a little something to do with the social unacceptance that we are subject to. While forever holding on to the knowledge that you have to have a thick layer of skin in order to survive on those runways and in these prisons, we describe some of the modes of identification and self-elaboration that are possible while you are being disposed of.5 We ponder how living with carceral dispossession and expulsion may make radical modes of trans becoming possible, or how Ms. Kitty Jayne remains very proud to be (one of the) the original trans girls in the penitentiary. It comes easily enough for me.
The prospect of reflecting on my life is very exciting because it's almost like reliving my life. And it will bring to mind so many loved ones who are no longer with us. So it is very appealing to me, my friend. The most important part of telling my story will be of reliving being a transwoman back in the day. We didn't have all of the politically correct terms that we have now. We were just drag queens. I would describe myself as a very tall eccentric devious cunning baffling beautiful woman. Someone who has been around the block a few times with both wisdom and personal knowledge of everything LGBTQI.
Marsha P. Johnson and I were great friends. She one day pulled my hair back and told me what a pretty girl I could be. When I looked at what she had done in the mirror I KNEW THAT I WAS MEANT TO BE A GIRL. I was very excited by this new discovery. Marsha was like my gay mother, and she always made me feel more comfortable. And understand myself.
Even before I started getting locked up, the police and jails were a big part of my life. Because all of my lovers and friends were always getting locked up. Marsha had been arrested for prostitution 100 times. Back then, you only got three days, time served for prostitution. I used to date the guy that they made the movie Dog Day Afternoon about.6He was on federal parole, and always in trouble!
Back in the day, there was A LOT of corruption with the 6th precinct. They were always beating the queers up. And forcing them to have sex in order to not get arrested. Scandalous. On more than one occasion, while arrested for prostitution, I was offered to be released in exchange for a blowjob. Going through the system in the 80s was a real pain in the ass. Because when I got arrested in broad daylight, I'd have my working clothes on, fishnet stockings and a garter belt, a pair of heels and a corset. But I never took them up on their offers. Other times, I was asked to rat out the drug dealers, or other people who had committed a crime. Of course I never did that either.
For the past forty years, I have been boosting expensive artwork and antiques. I do it for the money. I also used to boost high-end fashion mink coats. Kitty Jayne does it for the money, but she also does it for her sisters. Yes, of course I know Lady S. That's my bitch! Fat Black queen with a bald head, right? Please send her my love. And yes, I do remember showing the boys on Rikers Island my titties. I've been known to do that every now and again (lol). I have a total of about five years on Rikers, six months one time, 9 months, a year, etc., etc. I can remember how shady it always was. Back in the 80s, all the way up to about 1997, they had gay housing. The homo guards. It was quite fabulous. 31 cells, 16 for boys, 15 for us girls. EVERYONE was married. And it was quite the fuck fest. We used to have Balls with cookies and cakes from the commissary as the grand prizes.
The week after Kitty Jayne pleaded guilty to the charges that led to her current term of incarceration, we sat in the Rose M. Singer Center visiting room discussing the case.
Getting into the visiting room at Rosie's is itself an ordeal. The first thing I prepare for is the waiting—punctuated at intervals by drug-sniffing dogs, metal detectors, ion drug scanners—it's been two hours or more, and I probably haven't seen you yet. The walls at Rosie's are cinderblock, painted my favorite color, lilac, and I wonder who could believe that lilac could soften cinderblock. From the floor to the walls, everything in the Rosie's visitors’ center was made by incarcerated people upstate: the linoleum, the lockers, the chairs, the wooden booth where the guards sit, the toilet paper holders in the bathroom, the plastic purple armchairs that appear in the waiting room one week and then disappear the next (to be jumbled in the back of the visiting room, unused, in front of the “mother and child” play area). A stencil on the visitor's exit door reads, “Women are like angels. Even when you clip our wings, we still can fly.” I'm obsessed by this quote. I tune out the waiting room TV blaring the Rachael Ray morning show and the corrections officers glaring at visitors and stare at the grotesque phrase, written in gold cursive, curling across the bullet-proof Plexiglass of the door. Jail is just a bump on the road to women's uplift, I guess.7
My transmasculinity confuses the guards when it comes time to be searched before finally entering the visiting room. Sometimes they call me “young man,” and yet I'm also asked to shake and snap the bottom of my bra (I don't wear one), and when I can't produce the characteristic snap of an elastic band, I'm admonished that next time it will be “no contact”—as though without the snap of a bra band they can't confirm that I haven't smuggled drugs or weapons.8 So we sit, holding hands over the foot-high Plexiglass barrier jutting out of the wooden table between us, feet planted firmly on the floor (“Don't cross your legs!,” snapped the guard, every damn time), you coming from a strip search, me carrying a trace of the guard's gender bemusement, both of us being told we must wear bras on the visiting floor or risk losing visits, as though the visibility of our transness converges for the jail at the fleshy point of our nipples,9 and we talk about boosting. I stole $40,000 of luxury handbags, you say. Not just for me, but for the girls. You know I never show up anywhere without a gift, even when I'm as broke as a drag queen's limp wrist. I tell you I think no one deserves luxury purses more than the girls; I tell you “fuck rich people”; I say you're a queen of wealth redistribution; I tell you I made people call me Robin Hood when I was five after I saw the Disney cartoon; I tell you I think it's revolution or bust, baby. Your eyes widen as you lean back slowly and say boy, you're a real radical, huh. Okay, Robin Hood.
In 1981, my husband Mark and I followed a man into his building on St. Mark's. Mark had a BB gun on him. Although you'd never have known it as it looked so real. We announced a robbery and took off in Mark's car with the guy's wallet. We didn't get three blocks away when a sanitation truck parked in front of us so we couldn't pass. The police came quickly behind us. For that we got 5 years’ probation. I was like a kid, Nadja, 16 years old. I was scared to death. No, it didn't feel exciting at all to break the law.
Driving back from our most recent visit, I find a trailhead and pull over, walking for an hour into the snowy dense forest. Eastern New York Correctional is nestled in state parks: Vernooy Kill, Minnewaska, Witch's Hole, Shawangunk Ridge, Awosting. Alone in the forest, I ask myself a question I can't answer: what would I risk for your freedom? If in your lawbreaking and storytelling I conjure spaces of trans freedom—liberated luxury purses for all the girls and freedom feels like being able to fuck when you want to and the ballroom scene full of feathers, plumes, bugle-beads, and thick cigarette smoke—I think about the price you've paid for snatching freedom where you could get it, how the relentless criminalization of trans life and community means even when “in the free world,” you've lived in the penumbra of the penitentiary. Being locked up is a mess. It really takes a mental toll on all of us. If I could change anything about myself it would be to erase all of my criminal activity. Even as I cast you as the heroine of my outlaw romances—conjure your fabulous flights of fancy as trans freedom and play necessarily against the law—you remind me that there's nothing heroic in being criminalized, however audaciously you have had to live. At the prison you said, I wish you could bust me out of here. Snatch that guard's gun and we'd just run.10 What would I risk for your freedom? It's not that I can't answer this question. It's that I'm afraid that my answer is not enough to get you free.
When I was at this particular prison ten years ago, we had a pretty large community of LGBT people, plus all of our fans. Yet, we had no place to call our own. No court, no classroom to study our history, while every other group had their own space to do their thing. So I wrote a proposal complete with bylaws . . . and got signatures from all the people who ran the six other organizations supporting us. But instead of giving us a classroom with gay history tapes, they sent me to the Time Allowance Committee and they gave me a release date to go home, thus silencing and putting to rest my proposed project. Made to choose between transness as freedom and freedom from incarceration, transness as collectivity and transness as individual identity, the state predicated your freedom on severing relations from your sisters inside. Yes, the prison thought you were too much of a nuisance and yes, you always deserved to be free, but I think the prison also saw that your sisterhood was dangerous.
It's possible to find a sisterhood with other girls [in here]. If memory serves me, it was much easier to make friends with the girls back in the 90s. They were mostly no-nonsense, thoroughbred battlecats, like myself. . . . There was this one boy whom I met in 1994, in Elmira CF, his name was DJ. He was white, and very banjee. He used to buy me hormones, bras, and panties. He was a closet queen. I couldn't get him to come out for anything. It made me very sad, Nadja, to see him living a lie. He had a lot of time to do. I tried to hook him up legally with medical so he could get hormones. He wasn't having it. But very recently, I received a message from him. He's close by, in Woodbourne CF, that he finally got himself out of the closet. And that he's a woman now. I've met a lot of butchqueens who've discovered that they were really trans. They all thanked me for bringing it out of them. So yes. I've brought several people out to the light.
It's not just the incarcerated queens that you've brought out into the light, Kitty Jayne. Your ways of seeing me resound deeply within experiences that I never thought I could articulate enough to share with another, like how, for as long as I can remember, I've always felt fastened in kinship to animals, from Robin Hood the fox to Gus, Cinderella's mouse friend wonderstruck by the proximity to her princess-hood, to the dinosaur books in the bedroom and the Prospect Park raccoon that no one else cares I saw (no matter how much I try to testify to the beauty of her emergence in the winter twilight), but whose seeing me is a feeling that lingers five years on. And yes! Of course you are at peace with the animals because you are trans. THEY KNOW. I laugh with delight when I receive this letter; it's just so perfectly true. It's a whole world in a sentence.11I think you should both face, as well as challenge, your fears, and get that shot of testosterone. I recommend the injections because it's been clinically proven to give you the maximum effect. BUT ONLY DO SO IF YOU WANT A BEARD. I personally think you should do it if it's a BIG step in living your life as you want to be. You make me feel brave. Paradoxically perhaps, given all that you have endured at the hands of this transphobic world, you make me feel like liberation is possible.
I want to be remembered as a trailblazing mentor and fierce advocate for trans people. Sometimes when we're sitting in the visiting room talking, we tell stories of prison breaks and Robin Hoods and jostlers and till toppers and the old ball scene like they're folk tales, but you remind me that they're legendary—that you're legendary—not mythological. The dramatic, extravagant narrative form through which you bring forth Chelsea, The Village, The Piers—
the ballroom scene back in the late 70s–80s was like a magical kingdom. Full of feathers, plumes, bugle-beads, and thick cigarette smoke. It was a festival of shade. The competition was FIERCE! It was only my pleasure to walk the Balls for the Legendary House of Patricia Field. The spectators were the shadiest characters of all. And if you snatched a trophy for your category, you were the It Girl. If you snatched two trophies, you were LEGENDARY
—itself reverberates with the materiality of trans ways of living: luxurious, riotous, joyous. I understand what you mean when you write the prospect of reflecting on my life is very exciting because it's almost like reliving my life: because the way you write is the way you have lived, “creat[ing] your own future as a practice of survival” (Campt 2017: 114). I tear open a letter from you and magical words tumble forth (words that to me conjure elusive dreamworlds12 but to you conjure the materiality of memory); I picture you at your typewriter finishing a paragraph about the House of Field and flipping your hair; I hear the drawl in your voice and the swish in your walk (even in those prison-issued pants) and know that the way you write isn't mere rhetorical flourish: embellishment is a way of being, of elaborating, fashioning, a self in a world that has always criminalized your womanhood.
Prison abolition is the space to be myself, move freely, without fear or confinement. [A world without prisons] would be full of animals. And human beings interacting as one, helping each other out, holding each other down. I also picture a world where children have a say in the everyday decisions that adults make and adults respect what children have to say. Freedom means everything to me. Yes, I can be truly free in this world. Because after this bid is done, I'll have 35 years locked up. And truly without my freedom.
If I were on the outside, I would feel most like myself and comfortable if I were on stage performing. But in here, I would have to say it's right after the last count, when the lights are off. Just laying in bed waiting to go to sleep. When my mind and body are relaxed.
Kitty Jayne, why is romance the genre through which we communicate? What do love stories give us? As we write about freedom, I try to write in ways that love you, and you write in ways that make me believe that love is possible I was fucking a family of four brothers and each one swore me to secrecy. It was quite amusing. And so I honor the things you cannot or will not say, as a way to be together on the terms that you choose (impossible to think that you choose, and yet, you do): our narrative is a romance. A romance of how you describe freedom to me, Kitty Jayne. Not just determined by what has been denied you—not just the absence of confinement—freedom is tangible, a way of being in the world in the here and now, a form of self-fashioning not at all outside the enclosures and violence you've endured, but an “alternative future [created] by living both the future we want to see, while inhabiting its potential foreclosures at the same time” (Campt 2017: 107). One never heals correctly once sexual violence has come into play. Accountability in the penitentiary is nil. Only one part of the parties concerning people incarcerated are accountable. The victims, because the administration, who are most certainly guilty, are never ever held accountable. Kitty Jayne, I've stopped probing the silences you erect around violence and confinement, the resolute way in which domination is the frame of your letters but not the protagonist, not because the violence doesn't matter but because there is nothing to be done with its brute facticity, no way to narrate it that is not capitulation to its overdetermining power (cf. Snorton and Haritaworn 2013). I guess I'm saying we tell love stories because the romance figures a somewhere we can be together. I guess I'm saying that there's no resolution to this tension, in this world anyway, but you keep on figuring a freedom that will blow the walls of the prison back.
So, I try to resist my romance with your resistance at that same time as I try to give back to you what you love, a trashy, forbidden romance, the narrative that holds you together—the Latin King was chased to hell and back for loving me; I had my name tattooed on his ass—as I think about you, and as this paper takes form and shape through letters exchanged and sentences written and written again, visits still prohibited now a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, the ache of not seeing you for months—Can you believe they cancelled PRIDE, Nadja? What are all the screaming Mimis and Bulldaggers going to do without PRIDE, Nadja?. . . All of the staff and half of the prisoner population are walking around with masks on, it looks like a robbery in progress—but how to express the romance of you, Kitty Jayne, a romance that leaps off the page, that wakes up shakes your ass and exercises your freedoms whatever they may be. How to express that I fall in love with you more and more as I read and re-read the creased letters, typewriter ink already fading, but like your laugh, shimmering around the edges with the promise of freedom? This is a love letter.
New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) Directive 4911 “establishes the policy of the Department concerning packages and articles sent or brought to facilities and received through facility Package Rooms.” See NYS DOCCS 2020 for the full list of rules and restrictions.
I stay connected to community by keeping in contact with people like yourself Nadja. I used to write to ALL of the outside organizations. But not so much anymore.
Drawing on José Esteban Muñoz's Disidentifications (1999), we describe transness as a way of seeing in order to highlight the intersubjective, dialogic, and collective nature of trans identifications. Alongside Muñoz's analysis pointing toward disidentification as a mode of queer political performance, “descriptive of the survival strategies the minority subject practices in order to negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship” (4), a “trans way of seeing” emphasizes how we see each other through, between, and beyond transphobia and points toward seeing itself as a site and strategy of trans politics. As Kitty Jayne narrates her own entry into trans womanhood—Marsha P. Johnson one day pulled my hair back and told me what a pretty girl I could be. When I looked at what she had done in the mirror I KNEW THAT I WAS MEANT TO BE A GIRL. I was very excited by this new discovery— as Kitty Jayne's gender is refracted through Marsha's and Kitty Jayne's seeing, her womanhood becomes visible: called forth through trans sight. As with disidentification, we propose that this trans way of seeing “envision[s] and activate[s] new social relations” (5); indeed, it can only be realized and sustained intersubjectively. Thus, while a trans way of seeing is perhaps part of “revisionary identification,” or “different strategies of viewing, reading, and locating ‘self’ within representational systems and disparate life worlds that aim to displace or occlude a minority subject” (26), our emphasis here is not on locating the “self” but seeing the other or, more precisely, offering to the other a way of seeing themself. I've met a lot of butchqueens who've discovered that they were really trans. They all thanked me for bringing it out of them. So yes. I've brought several people out to the light. Our use of seeing here is also responsive to recent work by Black trans scholars documenting the “traps” of visibility for trans people, especially Black trans women, often only in their deaths (cf. Tourmaline, Stanley, and Burton 2017). Rather than approaching transness as axiomatically visible, or the problem of trans representation in a heteropatriarchal society being “invisibility,” we instead offer ways of seeing to signal toward the communal and ethical practices through which trans people receive each other, and we suggest that cultivating these ways of seeing is part of prefiguring trans liberation while still unfree.
We are grateful to Orisanmi Burton, who suggested letter writing as a way to collaborate on this project, and whose ongoing work with imprisoned Black radicals inspires us.
We are indebted in our thinking to the tradition of radical, especially Black, trans and queer organizing and critique, which grounds our rejection of the politics of respectability and the false promises of liberal inclusion (cf. Cohen 2004; Ferguson 2004; Snorton 2017). What we recognize—from our different social locations and histories—is that there is no liberation to be found through inclusion in a white, bourgeois, gender-normative, capitalist order, and that our liberation as white trans people necessitates the destruction of racial capitalism and its logics of heteropatriarchy and institutions of policing and incarceration. We understand transphobia to be profoundly and inextricably anti-Black in its logic and operation. We recognize that the prison industrial complex intentionally and systematically targets Black people in the United States. Do you see that building over there? It's the Corrections Officers’ Mess Hall. Prisoners serve the COs wearing special all-white uniforms. It looks like slavery. As a white imprisoned trans woman, Kitty Jayne is collateral of the state's genocidal war on Black people (or, as a mother in the abolitionist organizing collective Mothers Reclaiming Our Children explains in Ruth Wilson Gilmore's Golden Gulag (2007: 227), “You have to be white to be prosecuted under white law, but you do not have to be Black to be prosecuted under Black law.” Yet simultaneously, since rigid gender differentiation has long been constructed as the apotheosis of “civilized” whiteness (Schuller 2018), criminalizing and punishing the gender nonconformity of trans and gender-nonconforming people (especially trans women) is part of white supremacy's project to “purify” whiteness of gender deviance. Although there are forms of respectable trans womanhood that may be recuperable within white gender-normative strictures of womanhood (homemaking, passing, veteran of imperialist wars, bourgeois, invested in cisness), inclusion would require that Kitty Jayne abandon her embodied desires and practices of community and kinship (boosting, fucking in the streets, walking the balls with her sisters and picking their garters off the penitentiary floor, living fast, doing drugs, preferring men's prisons to women's). If Kitty Jayne's disreputable trans womanhood is thus construed as a threat to whiteness from within whiteness, since the prison functions as a zone of containment to protect whiteness and white innocence, then Kitty Jayne's incarceration is an effect of the white supremacist logic of the prison.
John Wojtowicz, who in 1972 attempted to rob a bank in Brooklyn to pay for his wife Elizabeth Eden's gender-affirmation surgery.
As Estelle Freedman (1984) argues, women's prisons have long been constructed as sites of women's uplift and domestic training, part of the project through which bourgeois women tended to the “souls” of their “fallen sisters.” Women's prisons would, according to this perspective, teach persons imprisoned there “first of all[,] to be good women” (55).
Beauchamp's (2019: 6) Going Stealth: Transgender Politics and U.S. Surveillance Practices asks the question, “How are transgender and gender nonconforming populations caught up in ongoing state surveillance practices that almost never explicitly name transgender as a category of concern?” The surveillance practices at Rosie's are a tangled web of misogyny and transphobia. This interaction reveals both that bodies with breasts and bras are presumed to characteristically conceal and smuggle (bras must be snapped but not the waistbands of boxers), and that trans and gender-nonconforming bodies are presumptively deceptive, concealing the “truths” of our bodies and contraband (drugs) in equal measure.
I am fascinated by this policy, unable to ascertain if the bra requirement applied to people presumed to have breasts or people presumed to be women, which are obviously overlapping but not coextensive categories. I can't reckon the structure of the joint readings of our trans bodies that results in both of us needing to wear bras at all times, all while the correction officer's (mis)recognition of our genders (Sir and Ma'am thrown every which way, at both of us in equal measure) is volatile and constantly shifting. Even for Kitty Jayne, for whom the order to wear a bra could perhaps be seen as acknowledgment of her womanhood, it overrides and subdues her own embodied experience of her breasts. I never wear a bra. Why would I, with my itty bitty titties? Of course, even if proffered as a sort of procedural recognition of her womanhood, the bra mandate actually serves to discipline Kitty Jayne toward gender normativity and proceeds with indifference toward the actual material experientiality of her body.
I omitted these lines about prison break from the versions of the article that I sent to Kitty Jayne, to avoid subjecting her to punishment.
I feel the sentiment that animals know that we are trans to be a refutation of the white supremacist project of anthropomorphizing animals as heterosexual to naturalize “sex” difference and of reifying the boundary between human and animal—a constructed boundary that, as Mel Y. Chen 2012 and Zakiyyah Iman Jackson 2020 have shown, has always been anti-Black. Kitty Jayne's animals offer knowledge about ourselves to trans people: they are subjects, not objects, of knowledge.
You help me, in Muñoz's (1999: 34) words, “imagine an expansive queer life-world . . . one in which the mysteries of our sexuality are not reined in by sanitized understandings of lesbian and gay identity, and finally, one in which we are all allowed to be drama queens and smoke as much as our hearts desire.”